"U21 Universitas 21" is written to the left of the graphic followed by "UC Davis Students Complete U21 Global Leadership Development Programs" to the right. The text lies over a navy blue background with watercolor brush strokes.

UC Davis Students Complete U21 Global Leadership Development Programs

During the 2022–23 academic year, over 115 UC Davis students participated in the Universitas 21 (U21) Sustainable Micro-Internship and Global Citizens programs, virtually representing UC Davis across the U21 network by working closely with international students across disciplines.

U21 is a global consortium of research-intensive universities that are collaborating on 21st-century higher education innovation,” shared Nancy Erbstein, associate vice provost of Global Education and associate professor in the School of Education. “As part of U21, these campuses are coming together to create direct program opportunities for students. Both of these programs offer UC Davis students a chance to learn online with students around the world, practice intercultural engagement, build diverse networks, work across disciplines and take on projects associated with one or more of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.”

During the Sustainable U21 Micro-Internships Program, participants collaborated with students from across the globe, sharing knowledge and expertise while immersing themselves in the work of a commercial organization. Each micro-internship supports a distinct UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG), and participants develop and pitch a solution to a real-life SDG-related challenge to senior stakeholders within the organization.

The U21 Global Citizens Program is an online leadership development program delivered by Common Purpose, a global nonprofit organization that specializes in cross-boundary leadership. Each week, participants collaborated across borders and time zones on solutions that address specific SDGs, honing skills needed in their future careers to tackle some of the world’s most pressing problems.

“Our students graduate into a highly interconnected world, where so many challenges and opportunities they’ll encounter will have global dimensions,” said Erbstein. “Global learning opportunities like these offer a chance to build awareness of global systems; explore complex dimensions of diversity, equity and inclusion around the world; expand networks and thinking; and recognize and build skills to pursue equitable global and intercultural action.”

Thanks to her work advancing global leadership opportunities, Erbstein was recently invited to join the U21 Student Engagement Steering Committee. This committee works with students and U21 staff to identify and offer programming that taps the strengths of a global higher education network.

According to Erbstein, every area of study has global aspects to it: STEM research gets done through international collaborations, social scientists work on issues with global implications and the humanities are fundamentally shaped and enriched through worldwide flows of people, ideas and resources.

“At UC Davis I work with a group of undergraduate, graduate and professional student advisors, the GE4A Fellows, who inform our work on campus,” she said. “I’ll definitely be tapping their insights, amongst others, in my committee work. Through the U21 programs, students get to deepen their academic learning, connect with other interesting people and opportunities, increase capacity for civic action and help position students to apply for postgraduate employment or education.”

Training Ground for Global Leaders

This past year, Zongsheng Chen, a first-year political science major, participated in the U21 Global Citizens Program. After completing the three-week intensive program, he received a U21/Common Purpose micro-credential and badge, demonstrating his mastery of the communication and critical-thinking skills needed to tackle complex global issues—and one day serve as a leader on the world’s stage.

Each week, Chen joined live online reflection workshops, engaging in discussions with students from across the globe on an SDG topic. For example, during one week his group focused on SDG No. 4: Quality Education.

“I’m an international student from China, and there were participants from Mexico and Australia as well as the U.S., so we were able to discuss the differences in our education systems,” he said. “While we all came from very different education systems, we also found that there was something in common across countries: a gap between the public and private schools. This showed that inequality problems exist in every education system. So we focused on possible solutions, such as increasing government subsidies.”

For Chen, the discussions provided an opportunity to facilitate conversations and step outside his comfort zone in a welcoming intercultural environment.

“The process of discussing the SDGs as a group and sharing our perspectives based on our backgrounds definitely helped with my leadership development,” said Chen. “I’m kind of an introverted person, so before this program speaking to a totally unfamiliar person would be a bit challenging for me. But I wanted to make the discussions meaningful to everyone, including myself, and realized there was nothing to be afraid of. I now have the confidence to actively speak in front of public audiences in the future thanks to this program.”

As a political science major, Chen’s interests mainly lie in global affairs. He said he participated in the U21 Global Citizens Program because he wanted to learn more about what is going on internationally through the UN SDGs as they are so well received around the world.

“It was an excellent opportunity to learn more about what my career path in political science could look like, including one day working at the UN,” said Chen. “This was the first time I was able to participate in a program with students from all over the world who have different voices, backgrounds and perspectives. It provided a chance to not only broaden my horizons but also develop my critical thinking skills. Taking advantage of this opportunity is one of the key things that will help me along my future career path.”

2023-24 U21 Opportunities

U21 Sustainable Micro-Internships Program Dates:

  • December 1–15, 2023—SDG focus: Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • January 12–26, 2024—SDG focus: Responsible Production and Consumption
  • February 2–16, 2024—SDG focus: Reduced Inequalities

To learn more about the Sustainable Micro-Internships, including how to apply, visit our webpage.

U21 Global Citizens Program Dates:

  • March 11–29, 2024

To learn more about the Global Citizens Program, including how to apply, visit our webpage.

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